The Teicna Files 09 - Sur'Dhanza: an Overview
The continent of Sur’Dhanza is made up of three islands; one large enough to rival Mordrekain in size, with a smaller mass at either end of its sprawling, crooked length. The largest of these islands, simply referred to as Sur’Dhanza, features an extreme range of weather patterns and biomes. A passion project of Malephesh himself, he sought freedom from the monotony he saw in the lands carved out by his fellow Elemental gods. By carefully arranging the mountains, fault lines, and water sources across the land masses, he formed a continent of extreme conditions.
On the northern arm of the main island, as well as in the sheltered valley of the comparatively-tiny Nir’Dhanza, precipitation is intercepted by the great Blade Wall, Nazzim, forming the expansive desert for which Sur’Dhanza is best known to the cultures of the northern hemisphere. The near-constant rainfall on the mountain range’s southern side has formed a lush - though equally deadly - rainforest which covers much of the continent’s great bend.
A river on the border of this great jungle gives way to the cliffs and canyons of the southeastern arm, where the soft red rock and multitude of natural springs have created a gargantuan maze of winding valleys and treacherous cliff walls. Steadily, towards the tip of this end of Sur’Dhanza’s main mass, the stone gives way to more fertile soil once again before finally giving way to a small stretch of grasslands, forests, and minor peaks.
Beyond the bay at the tip of this arm is the third island, Yal’Dhanza. At one time, the great lake at the center of this temperate region was considered a place of purity and life, giving even the swamps at the end of its largest outlet a sense of vibrance that contrasted greatly with the dismal, festering place it is today. Since the fall of Malephesh, something has taken root in this place, warping the trees and corrupting the very earth with a foul energy that few intelligent beings are able to stomach. Beyond this, the frigid winds of the poles pound against the shores, creating vast fields of snow and ice over the shoreline and ocean, stamping out what little life has escaped the foul influence of the island’s center.
Nestled in the crook of these three islands, deep beneath the open ocean, is a massive coral reef. It is said that this place once served as a meeting place of the various species of merfolk, a social center where customs and goods were brought to teach and trade with their fellows. Since the rending of the world, however, there have been few signs of intelligent life in the region, and far fewer of any that seem friendly to explorers in the slightest.
The Splitting of the Arren
As with every continent on Teicna, Sur’Dhanza is home to a number of varied races thanks to the experimentation and love of creation shown by the Elemental Four long before the annals of recorded history. While there all of these species are interesting and important in their own ways, it is generally agreed that much of the land’s history has been shaped by the Arren.
The progenitors of the three -arren species seen today, the original Arren were a mighty civilization of lizardfolk within the dense jungles of central Sur’Dhanza. There, with the aid of the winged Qoatl, the insectoid Arthrite, and a cluster of the mysterious, fungal Hyphaenid, they created a mighty stronghold of stone pyramids, diverted rivers, and vast cavern complexes that would keep them safe from the region’s deadly predators for centuries. The Qoatl were not satisfied with a settled lifestyle, however, and with the aid of the Elemental goddess of Air, Vespis, they created a floating city of their own and departed.
With the number of prospective obstacles so greatly reduced, the Hyphaenid hivemind began to plot against their allies, intending to rule the lands beneath the jungle without the petty compromises they had been making for decades to appease the ‘lesser’ races.
The Arren got word of this treachery - though they have no written records of how. It is speculated that Hyphaenid cluster held several rebels in its midst - and quietly formed their own plan. Without any word leaked to either Arthrite or Hyphaenid, they slipped into the jungle in the night, abandoning their allies to a fate worse than death and leaving themselves alone in a hostile world without the ones who had helped them carve out a place in it the first time around.
Soon after their departure from their grand capital, there was a falling out between leading factions within the Arren government. Scouts had confirmed long ago that the jungle spread for miles in all directions but one; to the north was a great wall of stone, beyond which was surely something - anything - safer than the savage beast that stalked them in their vulnerable, wandering state. At least, that was the claim of several clan chieftains. Others refuted their claims, declaring that the dangers they knew could be faced, while the dangers of the unknown would only serve to undermine their survival efforts. Debates between the two stances raged, until finally they split off entirely. Those who remained in the jungles would retain their Arren name, eking out a living in outposts on the jungle floor, carved into the earth beneath the roots of great trees. The ones who left had much more to look forward to.
After partially scaling the Nazzim and navigating their way around it, the emigrant Arren would find themselves in the vast deserts of Sur’Dhanza’s northern arm. At the sight of it, many wailed in despair and split off again to try and rejoin their brethren in the jungles (where they could be rejected for their betrayal and form smaller, far less successful outposts as outcasts), while the remainder forged onward. Barren as the place seemed, the harsh rays of the sun during the day and bright light of Teicna’s moons at night were pleasing to a reptilian people used to the oppressive shade of the jungle canopies.
It didn’t take long for the desert wanderers to discover that the wide open sands were not quite as devoid of life as they seemed. Numerous predators made use of the shifting grains to strike from below before their prey were even aware of their presence. Packs of strange, finned mammals prowled the dunes at night and pounced on unwary stragglers. Scavanging insects and rodents made off with invaluable supplies, creating shortages before even the most negative of Arren could have predicted. In short, the desert was not kind to them, and by the time they stumbled across their first oasis, all but the most stalwart among them were pining for the ambush predators and carnivorous plants of the jungles they had left behind.
A small settlement - if the pitiful collection of poorly-pitched tents and slapdash fires could even be termed as such - slowly formed around this first fountain of life-sustaining water they had discovered, but it was readily apparent that the natural resources surrounding the place would not support their community for long, particularly if they had any intention of growing it. Scouting parties were arranged and sent off in various directions, and most were lucky enough to be able to return with news of other oases and points of interest from along their routes.
For a time, the people attempted to simply inhabit the lands around these scattered watering holes, but it spread their numbers too thin and still stripped them of their resources eventually. Meetings were held to discuss the matter, and the solution that was eventually agreed upon was a complex one.
Eight tribes, each headed by a Chieftain from their old Arren government, would be formed. Each would travel their own way through the desert, stopping at a given oasis for only a fraction of a season, after which they would move on to the next one. If these tribes remained spaced far enough apart in a sort of set rotation between mapped locales, there would be time for the plants and animals taken from around the oases to recover before the next tribe arrived, allowing a more stable ecosystem near each one than if they were home to stable outposts.
Desperate for an even vaguely sensible solution to their supply woes, the ex-Arren agreed, taking on the name Kiarren, after their term for Teicna’s larger, brighter moon, Kioo, which allowed them to travel safely and more comfortably at night than under the blazing heat of the sun. Over time, the majority of these tribes grew accustomed to life in the desert, growing stronger as each new generation was raised with firmer and firmer understandings of the landscape around them.
One tribe reneged on the plan, however. They sought to perhaps cross the mountains once again and return to the life they knew. Instead, they stumbled across an alcove within the steep walls of the Nazzim where water coursing down the mountainside had created a lush, green, fertile land large enough to provide for all of them. Rather than return to their fellows and tell them of this hidden paradise, they chose to quietly settle down there themselves. While the land was more than enough to support their tiny population, they intended to grow into it, rather than risk its sustainability as they had that of the oases when they’d first settled beside them. They would eventually become known as the Jalarren, entirely separate from their desert-dwelling brethren.
And so it was that the Arren went from one of four powerful species residing in their mighty city in the jungle to three disparate clans, separated by betrayals and ideals. In the coming centuries, animosities would wane between some of them, but such grudges are not easily forgotten…
The Races of Sur’Dhanza
There is enough detail scrawled in various notes about each of these races to take up an entry in and of themselves. For now, here are some basic details about the appearances and themes of Sur’Dhanza’s natives.
Tall, vibrantly-colored lizardfolk, frequently seen with spikes covering their scales and large fins on their heads.
The progenitors of all lizardfolk on Sur’Dhanza. In modern times, they have become the most barbaric of their kin, surviving in the wilds of the jungle on a very strict ‘kill or be killed’ attitude. While the various predators and static dangers of the jungle continue to constantly threaten their lives, they find themselves with little time for the advancement of their society in ways other than perfecting the arts of survival. Several Arren clans consider themselves to be the protectors of their old homeland, slaying any who emerge from the overgrown ruins and obliterating the slightest signs of fungal growth with extreme prejudice.
Insect people with a minimum of four arms (increasing in number with status) and a multitude of legs. Queens and some other upper-class members of their species still sport vestigial wings from a time when they once graced the surface.
After their dual betrayal at the hands of both the Arren and the Hyphaenid, the Arthrite have lived a life of enslavement under the iron rule of the latter. Used for grunt-work and generally for the amusement of the Hyphaenid hivemind, they have unfortunately had little time for societal advancement in the centuries since their grant capital fell to ruin. Small sects of their race exist beyond the reach of the Hyphaenid master, and they work diligently to keep its spread in the caverns beneath their city’s ruins as limited as possible with their small numbers.
The Demons’ presence in Sur’Dhanza is a bit of a tale. One that will be discussed in a separate entry.
The Hyphaenid are complicated and - I think - interesting creatures, but also rather difficult to explain in a short entry. Also they’re the villains in the novel I wrote (and am steadily attempting to re-write as I update the lore of this world), so for now I’m going to let them remain at least something of a mystery.
Shorter than either of their cousins, but more solidly built, with fins more reminiscent of fish than those of their jungle-bound kin.
Since their minor betrayal in keeping the alcove oasis to themselves, the Jalarren have flourished, but the guilt from their actions has been turned in on themselves, making them a very contemplative, apologetic, and generally peaceful people. Thanks to the attentions of the goddess Altrannis after the fall of Malephesh, the Jalarren were able to quickly attain the secrets of magic and have since spread those secrets to the Kiarren in the hopes of making up for the secrets kept in the past. They have grown quite dependent on the water that flows through their cities over the years, making travel into the desert they once shunned quite difficult for them.
Taller and lither than either of their brethren, the Kiarren have adapted to their harsh environment with gusto, trading the wide head-fins for horns and spines that make them rather unpalatable to the larger desert hunters.
After the death of Malephesh, new gods sprung up rapidly across Sur’Dhanza. A surprising number congregated around the Kiarren - sensing the strength and determination that fueled them - and, with the aid of the goddess Altrannis and the demon god Penja’at, assisted them in forming the city of Sharast around an inland Godspout. Other stable cities have since been founded across the desert, including several by visitors from across Malephesh’s Tear, but Sharast remains a powerful center of commerce, making the Kiarren quite powerful.
A short, stocky race of armored, mammalian bipeds.
While the Arren were busy populating central and northern Sur’dhanza with their antics, the Pangols were busy carving out a life for themselves amidst the rocky mesas of the southeastern arm. With hostile jungle and an even more hostile ocean between them and any prospective visitors, they remain largely isolated in their cliffside homes, or more rarely in villages suspended from the trees along the borders of the jungle itself, where they’ve been known to socialize with Arren clans from time to time.
Winged, four-armed snake-folk, the Qoatl are covered in a mix of feathers, scales, and thick, stony plates.
Although technically no longer citizens of Sur’Dhanza, the Qoatl have never been ones to shy away from their origins. Their flying city of Xcetz has taken them across the globe several times over, enabling them to be remarkably successful merchants as they bring stories and goods from one culture to another. In recent decades, they have even begun to set down trading depots across the world, and even over the Tear itself as the increase in the popularity of airship travel necessitates places to rest and resupply over the vast expanse.
Reekin (Sur'Dhanzan variant)
Tiny, bottom-heavy, reptilian vermin with whisker-like barbels, finned ears, and wicked hooks on the ends of their tails.
Everyone knows (and loathes) the Reekin. Although they differ slightly in physiology from landmass to landmass, they seem to be present just about everywhere on Teicna. The Reekin themselves claim that they spawned in the core of the world itself, but this has yet to be substantiated. In any case, they are generally little more than thieves, brigands, and vandals, surging out from their warrens to pillage and scavenge what they can from rich surface-dwellers before retreating home to revel in their spoils. While certainly clever enough, they don’t seem intelligent enough to truly advance as a species or learn from the peoples they steal from.
Hidden in Plain Sight (NaNoChaMo)
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This large (comparatively) entry is brought to you by me wanting to make something a bit more broad in scope... and then jumping from individual aspects of the setting to massive regions without considering just how much broader that is! Still, I hope this is interesting to folks. I hope to do one of these for each continent in the world, as well as eventually touching on each race in a bit more detail.
Side Note: While pangolins are pretty much my favorite animals ever and I wanted to create a race based on them for a while, credit for the physical description of the pangols (as well as the name, minus one 'L') should go to Zito-is-Neato, where he made them absolutely freaking adorable.
The image of this continent comes from a larger map created by James Hunter-Shortland.
For more info, check out the The Whole Map!